Throughout most of the season, as the Montreal Canadiens were going through one eight-game losing streak or another, or at pretty much any point during a regular season that saw the team finish 24th in the NHL, blame was thrown toward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jonathan Drouin, and/or Max Domi.
Some of it was warranted. Some of it was reactionary against the player chosen third overall, or the highest-paid forward on the team that has yet to live up to expectations, or the team’s leading scorer from a year ago.
When Kirk Muller decided to start the three players together, it wasn’t a sure thing that it would work. The players could have been too similar, and not complementary enough. They could have been exploited without last change due to their defensive play. Instead, they just happened to shut down the Philadelphia Flyers’ most dominant line.
In around three minutes against Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier at five-on-five, they only allowed one shot attempt against, earning five or six of their own. The matchup was so dominant that Flyers coach Alain Vigneault chose to abandon it in the third period.
While Kotkaniemi has been playing well no matter who he has played with, Drouin and Domi have come under scrutiny for their lack of production. Domi had been playing on the fourth line, admittedly not the best way to showcase his offensive talent. Them coming together was possible because of the decision to play Jake Evans.
With Evans playing for Dale Weise, the Habs had a centre to take over the fourth line. This freed up Domi to play with the other two, and the combination worked better than anyone could have expected. The new fourth line got together for a goal to make the change look even better.
Going into Games 3 and 4, the Canadiens will have last change, which could allow for the new lines to be put in even more favourable matchups. Going into the series, the depth of the Canadiens was going to be important, and one change going into Friday afternoon’s game allowed it to be unlocked.